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Carer Recognition Bill 2022

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 24 November 2022

Tags: Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, in the tapestry of Tasmanian society, carers are the strongest thread. We do not always see it. It is often a hidden thread, almost invisible, but if it was pulled from the Tasmanian tapestry the whole thing would fall apart. Our society would fall apart so vital is the work of the 85 000 informal carers to Tasmania at an individual and community level.

We are pleased to support this excellent Carer Recognition Bill 2022. It formally recognises, through a statute of the Tasmanian parliament, the vital work of carers; makes sure that we have a carer's action plan so that we are responsive to the needs of carers; and that there is, as a schedule to the act, a charter that places certain responsibilities on government to recognise and respect in tangible ways the work of our carers.

I also thank the wonderful people at Carers Tasmania, David, Julie and everyone who works at Carers Tasmania. The work you do is important to the health and wellbeing of our society but also for carers to know that you are there and always advocating for their rights. It is something we are all thankful for here in this parliament.

We have all, in our lives and in our work, had the great privilege of meeting carers, working with carers or being part-time carers ourselves. As a former minister for community development, it was a genuine delight to spend so much time with carers and Carers Tasmania. In those days it was the formidable Janice McKenna who was running Carers Tasmania.

Mr Barnett - Hear hear, a wonderful operator.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, what an amazing woman.

Mr Street - She was absolute gem.

Ms O'CONNOR - She was a machine, that is right. David, you are excellent but you have massive stilettos to fill. Although we understand that Carers Tasmania has been around for almost a quarter of a century, it was the work in those early days that Janice McKenna did to brief across the parliament, constantly knocking on the doors of politicians, ministers and other community leaders and fiercely advocating for the recognition of carers, the respect for their rights, their needs that are often unmet.

I was a newly-elected MP and Janice drew me into that world of Carers Tasmania and the people it supports, and it was such a great privilege. I met carers across the ages, including a wonderful young girl who was looking after her mum who had a quite significant neuro degenerative disorder. This beautiful child did everything she could for her mum. She would cook and clean, and she would take and make the phone calls for appointments. Sometimes she would miss out on school; that is the human cost that informal carers pay. The connection that she and her mum had was very powerful. Obviously that beautiful girl was made to grow up too soon, because a weight of responsibility sat on her shoulders that most children do not have to carry. I was so glad for her mum that she had her beautiful carer there. Again, it is an area that government needs to be very mindful of, and all the supports that we are able to give children who are carers, and they will not the majority of carers, but their numbers are not insignificant. We need to make sure that the State of Tasmania, as this legislation says, sees carers who are young carers and recognises that they have a specific set of support from government. It is really important that we always remember some of the informal unpaid carers we are talking about are mere children themselves.

At the other end of the age spectrum, of course, there are carers who are frail and aged themselves, looking after someone they love, again, at a personal, emotional cost, a physical cost, and inevitably, a financial cost. We know that carers' financial needs are not adequately met by the Commonwealth.

Particularly when I was minister, I was often struck by the value and the quantum. It is hard to actually quantify the work of carers and how much pressure that takes off government. Imagine if government was required to do the work of the 85 000 carers in Tasmania. It just would not be possible. Yet governments rely on that caring work and, I would argue, do not sufficiently respond to the needs of carers and, particularly, some of those financial needs. This is not about the state of Tasmania, minister, not at all.

This legislation is an important first step, but as Ms Dow was saying there is another conversation to be had about the tangible steps that governments can take to support the work of carers and the work of Carers Tasmania in their advocacy and support work.

The national carers survey of 2022 is worth highlighting in this debate. There were 691 carers from Tasmania who contributed to the survey. Of those 691, the majority identified as female, who were aged 17 to 79. The average age was 65.5 years. They represented a range of locations and cultural backgrounds. Most identified as Australian and lived in regional locations. Some 21.1 per cent of respondents were working while providing care. Again, we see this extra unpaid burden that is sitting on the shoulders of many carers, some of whom will be in full time or part-time work.

Most Tasmanian carers who responded to the survey were caring for a partner. Most commonly, respondents were caring for someone living with a disability. The average age of the people they care for was 63.4 years. In terms of who our carers care for, about 62 per cent are people with a disability; 31 per cent people living with a chronic health condition; 34 per cent frail people; and 26 per cent people living with dementia, which would bring its own significant challenges. I have certainly spoken to carers of people with dementia and it can be very hard work indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker. The survey found that carers from Tasmania typically spent 108 hours a week caring and had been caring for 11.3 years. Nationally, when they have tried to quantify the contribution of carers - and I think this is a massive understatement -

Mr O'Byrne - You could never do it fully.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, you could never do it. This is information provided by Carers Tasmania. If the Government had to find the funds to replace the care provided by our informal and unpaid carers in the year 2015 - so you can imagine now with inflation - they would have had to find $60.3 billion because they would be funding about 1.9 billion hours of unpaid work.

It is therefore essential that we have a statute that recognises the vital work of carers. If there is a statutory obligation to develop a carers action plan in the legislation - and we had something very similar when I was minister - we are interested to know if the minister, in his second reading response, would like to detail his thoughts on what the action plan might contain, what sort of consultation process you would undertake, particularly with our unpaid carers, what the timing is on the delivery of the action plan and what it might do to tangibly support the work of carers and help them in their daily lives.

As the minister foreshadowed - and we also have a copy here - there has been quite a bit of work go into particularly the amendment to clause 4. I am sure the minister and Ms Dow have had this experience where there had been correspondence back and forth once this bill was tabled. There was correspondence from grandparents raising grandchildren, Kin for Kids, Carers Tasmania, and the consequence of that back and forth has been an addition to the definition of carer. Should the House agree to pass the amendment, it would now read -

'Carer' means a person who provides unpaid care and support to a family member or friend who has a disability, or has mental illness, or has a chronic life threatening condition, or has alcohol or other drug dependence, or is frail or aged, or is a child, if the person is an informal kinship carer of the child.

We support this amendment. These family members are prepared to step in when there is family breakdown or a parent having difficulties, and those kinship carers play an immeasurably vital role in giving kids in difficult circumstances that sense of stability, of feeling safe, loved and wanted. It is such an important component of that child's safety system.

My mum was a grandparent who raised my late sister's four children and life was pretty tough for those kids. When mum got hold of them they had nutritious food, they always went to school and they always looked cared for. They were very well behaved after spending a bit of time with my mother. Mum got three of those four boys into university, really great trades. She literally saved them. She looked after my late sister's children for the best part of eight years. I am ever so thankful for that.

The other amendments which have been put forward by the minister are simply to make sure that the definition of a 'child', which is consistent across Tasmanian legislation, means a person under the age of 18 and that you recognise the Department of Community's Tasmania no longer exists and that this act would be administered under the Department of Premier and Cabinet. Congratulations, minister, on bringing forward this legislation. More broadly, congratulations to the Government for committing to it and bringing it into this House. It is a really important first step in formally recognising the work of carers in our community and making sure that parliament passes law which gives overdue vital recognition to our informal and unpaid carers. We are so thankful to them.